How to land the media job you want: Tips from Isis Nyong’o Madison

isis nyong'o madison media leader
Get inspired and land the media job you want with lessons straight from Isis Nyong'o Madison Click To Tweet

Isis Nyong’o Madison is a well-known media and technology leader in Africa. She has held leadership roles at Asphalt & Ink, InMobi, Google and MTV. Over the past decade, she has made her mark scaling media and digital businesses across the continent. Isis holds degrees from Stanford University and Harvard Business School and is the CEO and Co-founder of Mums Village  an online start-up dedicated to enriching the lives of current mothers and mums-to-be in urban Kenya.

Accolades awarded to her include being named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and one of Africa’s most Powerful Women by Forbes. Isis serves on the boards of two technology companies and it can’t hurt to add that her family boasts of greatness with Academy award winning actress, Lupita Nyong’o as her cousin.

As someone with great experience in media and technology – all the while ensuring career longevity, below are some takeaways we can learn from her as she tells us how she got to where she is now.

Network, network, network and be persistent

“I networked incredibly hard to get into MTV in 2005. They were just getting ready to launch in Africa right as I was graduating from Harvard Business School -I was very excited about media at the time and absolutely obsessed with working there. I didn’t know if they had any vacancies but I did everything I possibly could to find myself space there as it was logical to me that they would need to put a team together.

The person leading the MTV Africa venture was Nigerian so I reached into my network asking every single Nigerian I knew if they knew this guy. None of them did but with more digging I got the phone numbers I needed that finally connected me to him. This took about six months to get to him and get him to hire me as their first sales person.

Today, I wouldn’t recommend spamming a potential employer with too many emails and cold calling them but you should do your best to get noticed. For example, attend events that they host, engage with them online and meet employees to better understand what it’s like to work there. Never give up on something that you feel is right for you but also use your judgement on optimal approach.”

Some key points to help with landing the job you want:

1. Network

Again, this is very important and is a skill that young people should have. There are more forums to network nowadays and a lot of networking opportunities as well.

The reality, particularly here in Kenya, is that people feel like only certain people get jobs because they have access to certain networks. There is some truth to that but not to say that one cannot build their own networks no matter where you are starting from. Your networks don’t just happen to you, you build on your alumni institution, your church, and many other avenues. That’s something I became very good at over time and it’s something that is important not just for jobs but for business in general.

The importance of your network in landing the job you want in the media is very real Click To Tweet
2. Throw your hat in the ring

When applying for jobs in big companies, I think there’s a view that you can’t just apply on their website and expect your CV to be reviewed. I applied to Google at a time when they had 1,000 people at least applying per week and every single CV was screened.

Also, particularly for women, there’s a lot of research that shows that women will go through an entire list of requirements and if they do not have one of those things that the company is looking for, they won’t apply. Yet men tend to apply regardless of meeting all the requirements or not. I think that women definitely need to have a much more controlled view of this and apply for the job they want despite missing one or two requirements. The only way to ensure you don’t get a job is to not apply.

3. Preparation matters – a lot.

Ensure you have an engaging, updated LinkedIn profile as that is where your professional visibility matters and be mindful of everything you put online. Typos in CV’s and any other communications are inexcusable and reflect a cavalier attitude which makes it easy for employers to pass on.

When you reach the interview stage, do thorough research in preparation for it. You can never over prepare -you should definitely never walk into an interview unprepared as you’ll be wasting everyone’s time including your own. Understand what the role is, what you think they’re looking for, what questions they are likely to ask you, what questions you’ll ask them and find out what’s happening in that industry that you want to join. There’s no excuse not to be prepared.

How to ensure career longevity

“If one finds their life passion, it becomes much easier to have career longevity. Things fall into place when you find your passion. There’s always more you want to do and there’s more opportunities that find their way back to you.

If one finds their life passion, it becomes much easier to have career longevity Click To Tweet

For those who are unfortunately stuck in a career path that’s not for them, make it a mission to find a way to get out of that situation instead of trying to create a long-term career.”

Finally, what matters more between education and experience? It depends on the individual

“Education and experience are both very important and I do think that I vacillate myself on whether one matters more than the other. A good education gives you a foundation to build knowledge, working in teams, critical thinking skills and the discipline of simply showing up. There’s a lot of things that matter later in life that showing up at school, participating, learning, doing homework, doing all these again and again and again assists…all of this matters a lot during our career.

“I have interacted with ‘seasoned’ professionals who have 10 years of experience in a field but if you can’t problem solve and only do the things that you’ve been trained to do, then it’s hard to get to the next level. So you can see why it may just depend on the individual on which one is better but I’m an advocate for both of them.”

What you can learn about leaps of faith and other career lessons from Isis Nyong’o Madison

isis nyong'o madison

Isis Nyong’o Madison is a tech entrepreneur, investor and influencer in the African entrepreneurship scene. Aside from being named as one of the youngest power women in Africa, she is a principal at strategic advisory and investment firm Asphalt and Ink and previously served as the Vice President and Managing Director at InMobi and Google’s Business Development Manager in Africa.

With numerous nods, including several acknowledgements from Kenya’s Business Daily’s Top 40 under 40 Women, Isis Nyong’o Madison is someone all young African women need to look up to. We went through some of her interviews and learnt a few career lessons.

1. Take a leap of faith

Kenya in recent years has been touted as the hottest tech hub of Africa but in 2002, this was not the case. Isis chose to come back to Kenya against the advice of a career officer at Harvard in order to pursue tech opportunities in the market.

 Even if the steps you want to take in your career do not look like the correct ones to others, you need to be able to critically review advice from others and draw your own conclusions. Coming back to Kenya was a leap of faith for Isis and it has paid off.

isis nyong'o madison

2. Take a chance on you

While she was still a student, Isis flew out to London on her own dime, to meet with MTV Africa head Alex Okosi. This is because she felt that she was the right person for the job. Taking a chance on yourself means not giving up on an opportunity you think suits you no matter the obstacles.

3. Make a decision and stick to it

To achieve anything in life, clear decisions need to be made. Once you have decided what direction your career should take, it is important to stick to it. Isis has said in numerous interviews that there are no quick wins.

Success takes time; you need to give yourself time. Isis has declined higher paying jobs in her career that did not meet her own personal goals of challenging work, responsibility, and growth.

4. Build/create/do something worthwhile

It is not enough to just focus on moving up the ranks, you need something to show for it. It is just as important to build a track record or building something on your own or within a company no matter what role you are in. This is definitely something that can be said of every role Isis has held.

Isis Nyong'o Madison

5. Be confident

No one is going to hand it to you. You need to go after the career or promotion you want. Once you have taken the time to build something worthwhile, do not be afraid to show it.

Use it as a portfolio to show just what you have accomplished and make it hard for anyone to pass you up for or question your promotion. Isis has been asked several times by people with more seniority than her whether she can do the job and her response as always been yes. You’ve shown you can do it, now prove it.

6. Be open to learning

You can never learn anything enough and Isis knows this. Take every opportunity you can to learn something new. As Isis puts it, “learn about new ideas, build a new skill or deepen your understanding about a subject you are already familiar with.”

7. Be committed

After it’s all said and done, Isis truly does commit to her work. In an interview with Forbes Africa magazine, Isis said about her former firm, “As we are a global organization (InMobi), there are often conference calls in the middle of the night and early hours of the morning. InMobi never sleeps.”

To grow your career, you should be willing to give that level of commitment to your career.